Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 7, 2009

Making meaning of the QHSR

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 7, 2009

Secretary Napolitano is seeking your help to resolve a perplexing issue.  She says, “Your breadth of knowledge and insight will provide… a better understanding of what homeland security truly means.” (See  and hear the Secretary’s video message on YouTube.)

To grapple with the issue of meaning, we are being asked to participate in a National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review where we  are offered six topics:

  • Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management
  • Securing our borders
  • Smart and tough enforcement of immigration laws
  • Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters
  • Homeland security national risk assessment
  • Homeland security planning and capabilities

If you didn’t notice, these are the four external elements of the Secretary’s oft-repeated five responsibilities (or priorities or goals… the nature-of-being  can shift ever so subtly) plus two processes that might influence how the responsibilities are fulfilled. (Please see Jessica Flanigan-Herrera’s prior post on the National Dialogue.) 

Imagination is the organ of meaning. (C.S. Lewis)

Is the sum of these parts the meaning the Secretary has asked us to help with?  Are these — or some synthesis of these — what we mean by homeland security?

Is the Secretary asking a question of epistemology?  Is she attempting to define and organize knowledge that already exists?  Or seeking to better understand how we might understand?  Maybe she just wants confirmation that her four categories and two processes conform with what the demos considers meaningful.  The Sophists would have argued this is the only knowledge — or meaning — that matters.

Perhaps the Secretary has a more ontological goal. She offers four categories and two processes that are presumably in relationship with each other and with other categories and processes.  Are we to help her conceive and craft an architecture of homeland security?

If particulars are to have meaning, there must be universals. (Plato)

Personally I tend toward teleological explanations.  What is the purpose of homeland security?  Once purpose is clear it is often easier to discern meaning — or potential meaning.

In her five responsibilities, goals… or whatever, the Secretary has set out some action-objectives, but her purpose is unstated (or, at least, incomplete).  I think she and many others presume the purpose of homeland security is self-evident.  Maybe to you, but I would prefer an explicit statement.

On the National Dialogue site one of the QHSR study teams recommends  the following first-draft mission/vision statement for Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management:

To mobilize the American effort for preventing terrorist and other attacks, preparing for disasters, and assuring the resilience of civil society and the critical networks and functions that are essential to preserving a free and prosperous nation. We achieve this by providing active leadership, removing barriers, and providing incentives for the sustained engagement of the American people, the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and our international partners.

I focus in on the reference to “resilience of civil society” and a “free and prosperous nation.”  Those sound like purposes.  Are these the right purposes? How might we know? Is “sustained engagement of the American people,” a purpose or a method? 

Are we to help the Secretary discern homeland security purposes and distinguish between ends and means?  Or is this just an instrumental exercise in tasking the Department of Homeland Security… something considerably different than determining what homeland security means.

No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.(Jean Paul Sartre)

The Department of Homeland Security exists.  The Department does things, including counterterrorism, border security, immigration enforcement, and disaster preparedness, response and recovery. 

I exist.  I do things. The Department and I are both very busy doing things. Does this establish our meaning?  Maybe.  If so, my meaning is pretty  ephemeral.

There is a temptation — especially when a pedant begins to throw around philosophical jargon — to decide its nothing more than words.  But Sartre also wrote, “Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think.” From our own experience we know this truth.

Perhaps what determines meaning is why we do what we do.  What is our motivation? Our rationale? Our intent? What is our envisioned outcome and  our actual outcome? How do we make sense of the difference between intended and actual?  Are we prepared to take specific responsibility for both the what and why — and consequences — of what we do?  Have we given it enough thought to even know why?

Your knowledge, insight, and  imagination is being solicited for comments on the QHSR.  Section 2401 of the 2007 Act implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission requires, “Each quadrennial homeland security review shall be a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities, budget, policies, and authorities of the Department.”

The first phase of  dialoging  ends on Sunday.  As of yesterday, the survey responses on the site suggest that 100-200 folks have made specific  contributions.  You are being  invited to make meaning.  That’s a generous invitation. It is worth some weekend thinking and writing.

She has asked for your help.  I think she — and we — need your help. Join the National Dialogue at http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org/


Editorial Note:  If you have not already done so, please review Catherine Dale’s (Congressional Research Service) study entitled,  National Security Strategy: Legislative Mandates, Execution to Date, and Considerations for Congress.   Ms. Dale’s study is especially helpful in situating the QHSR within the broader framework of national security strategy-making.  Further, while her language is more attuned to systems management than to philosophy, I was encouraged to my comments above by several of her insights.)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 7, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

I would hope this review process would identify the current HS principles under which DHS operates! For example, why no mention of preserving the Constitution and civil liberties and privacy in any of this discourse. But hey there is still time brother (as read from the Neville Schute novel “On the Beach” as the film closed out the end of human existence in Australia.)

If we know what the current principles of HS are then perhaps we can articulate their validity or defects and if the latter change them. E.G. how do the principles of border control, immigration enforcement relate to each other? Is this intuitive or counter intuitive as I believe the latter.

Other answers might equally be valid. As for counterterrorism and domestic security management are these related, if so how, and if not why not? Also what is their definition? Where is resilience in any of this discourse assuming what is is what is sought to be preserved and not reformed or changed somehow. Here is an Executive Branch organization that does not know its own authorities, its own staffing (Ihave always doubted the figure of 220,000 FTE’s), its budget, nor has it identified for management all the unauthorized programs, functions, or activities it undertakes, some of which I agree with for example CERT! Why has DHS never sent up CERT authorizing language?

Why does DHS itself not comply with NIMS? Is it because its a FEMA concept? Where is DHS analysis of its unfunded mandates? How are statistics gathered in DHS? Who decides what will be gathered? Are their professional statisticians analyzing the statistics gathered. How many executives in DHS know all of DHS programs, functions and activities? How many have security clearances and why do they have them? Because they want them? Do they really need them? Is DHS stovepiped and Why or Why not? How come training centers are buried and why not a Training Directorate that runs them all and prevents duplication and overlap or even more important makes sense of the curricula.

Hoping that the review will establish where there are none the basic principles under which DHS operates? Why no adovating spin off of non-DHS related programs or is this just another agency that wants more more and more staff and programs. Does what DHS does now make any sense. How many self-initiated evaluations of its programs have been done in DHS or does it just rely on its OIG and GAO for comprehensive evaluation?

I could argue and probably do at this point that as currently constructed because DHS is so lacking in real transparency that almost nothing substantive will come out of this review process except perhaps some window dressing. Personally for example I would double the size of the funding and staffing of the Coast Guard based on current missions or else cut back those missions. Today the Coasties are overmissioned IMO! FEMA is a joke with chronic underfunding for preparedness and mitigation and understaffing for response and recovery. TSA is inherently defective as long as it does not control the passenger terminals of various kinds of transportation systems. It does not do transportation security but it does well public presence by disruption of travel!

The S&T Directorate? What does it state are its biggest accomplishments? Why not micro grants and contracts instead of paralleling DOD R&D? If this mandate for review was not statutory would DHS do it? Probably not but this could be a key management tool. How about a system of soliciting employee suggestions where there is a cutout system so employees cannot be punished for their suggestions? Or and it would help if each of the persons submitting suggestions indicate if they or their firms are grant recipients or contractors for DHS! I don’t want to prevent their commenting just want disclosure.

Fianlly where is the formal DHS position on each of the above problems and processes? IBM just got out a nice piece on risk assessment and DHS but as far as as I know so far only a Risk Lexicon has been published by DHS but not sure if adopted department wide.

As to the second process, HS planning and capabilities make the following comment. PREPAREDNESS includes plans and capabilities include systems, processes, personnel, equipment, training and other factors based on some baseline criteria. So what is the event or events that DHS seems to think it has the plans and capability to do? Is it a NUDET in a major US metropolitan area? Is it a virulent PANDEMIC flu? Is it completely in harness with HHS and CDC on H1N1?

I would like to see a listing of all funded and non-funded MOU’s between DHS components and then of course including IAA’s with all the rest of the Executive Branch? What exactly is management in DHS curious about? Or are they punished for having curiousity? Exactly who in the department knows exactly what it can do and when it can do it and of course that great problem when should they do it? I would have been happier for example if DHS has stated on the record that Secretary DHS should not be the PFO for Pandemic Flu under HSPD-5 and that should be the Secretary DHS. And then I would totally find out what staff and funding could be given to HHS/CDC should it be needed. This is not the who is in charge issue but the who can do it and is most capable issue?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 7, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

I note that DHS has issued guidance for schools and pandemic Flu! Personally I wish it had come from HHS/CDC or even Dept of Education. After all as far as I know DHS and FEMA don’t do school preparedness at least until the recent Fugate initiative on children is finished. What I find most interesting and defective about the DHS guidance is that it gives no indication that it was reviewed and approved by other components in DHS (the issuing office was a bit unusual for a real world event and guidance that I would consider in the vein of highly technical Emergency Public Information not public affairs routine)! And of course hoping Dept of ED and HHS/CDC also approved and concurred in the guidance and DHS issuing it. This is real world folks and so far I am not confident the Administration is really on top of things but could be wrong as always and hoping for a really topnotch performance. If I was the Secretary DHS, HHS, or ED I would start the morning briefings off with a status report on schools. Expect the southern tier states to have schools and colleges impacted the first after the middle of August.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 7, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

Am I crazy or do I remember a White House announcement of some kind of Pandemic Flu Czar or control mechanism? If so hope they concurred in the school guidance also.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 8, 2009 @ 5:17 am

I now also note that CDC has issued school guidance but don’t remember if cited by DHS or not. In any case, recommend you break the glass and pull the CDC alarm box not the one marked DHS with respect to PANDEMIC FLU!

Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 9, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

Just throwing this out there for conversation or silent contemplation: if we really want a federal agency that has the lead for all-hazards “homeland security,” shouldn’t DHS take the lead in pan-flu? CDC represents the SME, as DOE would in a nuclear scenario. But while both have extensive contacts around the country, they are limited in scope in each state to particular agencies and/or industries.

While I’m not suggesting we are there yet, I do wonder if the hope is that DHS will be eventually take the primary role of conductor able to pull in relevant federal agencies depending on the situation, with a breadth of reach to and among the states that will be optimal in our Constitutionally mandated form of government.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 10, 2009 @ 6:52 am

Great comment Arnold and as always the tension between the generalist and specialist. My thinking is as follows: DHS has not really set up in a fashion to integrate technical, scientific, or legal or medical expertise into its Emergency Public Information ops (THIS IS NOT PUBLIC AFFAIRS) and the issuance of Protective Action Decisions or even Recommendations. Why not? Because DHS has failed to recognize it role in establishment of a civil crisis managment and response system or even a civil crisis managment chain-of-command. So now where highly technical information must be transplanted into the publics mind in many cases rapidly, DHS is just the wrong department to be in the lead. I also keep thinking I heard the President indicate some constant White House level coordination point from now on back during the so-called Swine Flu Summit in early July but I could be wrong. This is not a case of who is in charge but who can do it. The Hill (Congress) absolutely refuses on a continuing basis to make clear that the STAFFORD ACT does or does not apply assuming a Presidential declaration to the PANDEMIC FLU situation. This is more about committee perogratives and rivalrys than making sure the American people get what they need. GAO in its most recent published and verbal testimony to Congress continues to identify defects in federal/state/local arrangements for PANFLU. Even the announced guidance and criteria have not been fully met by those required or suggested to do so. But hey schools are about to open and then we shall see what we shall see.

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